Louise R. (Shahnáz) Waite (d. 1939): Her Grave to Finally Receive a Headstone

Many thanks to Candace Moore Hill, a course developer for the Wilmette Institute, who discovered the absence of a headstone on Louise R. Waite’s grave through her research in Find a Grave, and to Paulette Pappas, a member of the Archives Committee for the Spiritual Assembly of Los Angeles, California, USA, who provided information about Louise and the project to place a marker on her grave.

Shahnaz Waite at Piano

Louise Waite. Photograph: Courtesy, National Bahá’í Archives, United States

We tend to believe that early Bahá’ís, especially those who were privileged to meet and correspond with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi were treated with respect in their earthly lives and after their passings. But such is not always the case. Take, for example, Louise R. (Shahnáz) Waite, who was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; became a Bahá’í in Chicago a few years after Thornton Chase become one in 1894; and died in 1939, in Los Angeles, California. Her papers are still a treasured part of the Los Angeles Bahá’í Archives. But recent research shows that the grave of Louise’s husband, Edgar F. Waite, has a headstone. Yet Louise’s grave, next to her husband’s, has none.

To honor Louise, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Glendale, California, has taken up her cause. It has commissioned a headstone for her grave (designed by Paulette Pappas), purchased it, taken care of the administrative and legal paperwork, undertaken a fund-raising project to pay for the project, and is planning an unveiling of the monument in late January or February. The total cost is $1,412.75 ($975.00 for the headstone, $87.75 tax, and $350.00 for placement).

You can be a part of the effort to place a headstone on Louise Waite’s grave and to preserve history. Make out your check to the Glendale Spiritual Assembly, and send it to the Glendale Spiritual Assembly, c/o Ms. Elaine Klemzak, 2861 Piedmont Avenue, La Crescenta, CA 91214 or to Ms. Paulette Pappas, 45664 Kimo Street, Temecula, CA 92592. Funds over the amount needed for Louise’s headstone will be held in trust for graves of other Bahá’ís that need markers (two of whom has already been identified).

Louise received her first (of forty-one) tablets (letters) from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in 1902. He praised the poems and songs that she sent to Him, praying in the 1902 letter that she might be “‘the first to praise the Beauty of El Abhá and the first utterer of His Name among the women.’” In other letters he discussed music, reincarnation, poetry, and marriage. Louise’s husband, a man ahead of his time and Louise’s spiritual partner in teaching the Faith, undertook many daily tasks to make it possible for her to serve the Faith.

By the time Shoghi Effendi became Guardian in 1921, Louise and Edgar had moved to Los Angeles, where Louise served on the Spiritual Assembly for many years and also corresponded with Shoghi Effendi.

Today Louise is perhaps best known for the Bahá’í hymns she wrote, including “The Temple Song” (written for and performed at the Temple Unity Convention held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1910) and “The Benediction” (for a rendition of the latter see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZL-LKWPWSvI). The Waite’s only child, a daughter, died young, which may be why Louise wrote many songs for children. She also wrote a number of Bahá’í books, including song books, and pieces for Bahá’í publications.

When Louise died in 1939, Shoghi Effendi cabled the Spiritual Assembly of Los Angeles: “Passing of Shahnáz, beloved pioneer, deeply lamented. Record outstanding services imperishable. Reward assured. Ardent prayers.”

For additional information about Louise R. Waite, see “Shahnaz Khánum (Mrs. Louise R. Waite),” an In Memoriam article in The Bahá’í World, Vol. VIII, 661; “The Temple Unity Convention, Chicago, Ill.” in Bahai News, 1.4: 3, 30 (for the music to the “Temple Song”); and “Shahnaz: The Royal Falcon (Louise R. Waite)” http://www.markfoster.net/shahnaz.html (for transcriptions of tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá).

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